Growing up, my exposure to eggplant didn’t involve a crisp coating of bread crumbs under a blanket of cheese and marinara.
My mom tossed hunks of the jumbo purple Globe eggplants into pinakbet, which you could think of as Filipino “ratatouille,” but flavored with shrimp paste and pork. She would char skinny Chinese eggplants on our electric stovetop’s burners, peel them, pile them on a plate, and douse them with fish sauce. In either case, all you’d need to complete the meal was rice.
Right now, in eggplant’s high season, it’s hard not to support any dish where eggplant is the star: classic ratatouille, a sprightly caponata, or, of course, eggplant Parm. But I won’t deny that the cravings for my mom’s eggplant dishes are at their peak right around now, too.
Wherever your eggplant allegiances lie, now’s as good a time as any—actually, the best time—to stock up.
Eggplants are in the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants, along with peppers and tomatoes. They like it hot, which is why farmers’ markets are so flush with them in the dog days of summer, and they’re a hard-working lot, continuing to produce fruit (yes, since eggplant has seeds it is botanically a fruit) until it gets too cold. Count on a steady stream of eggplant until the first frost, says Robert Westerfield, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension.
There’s an impressive array of eggplant out there, especially for farmer’s market shoppers. Some are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, others rival a Nerf football in size, and not all are purple.
The Black Beauty eggplant, also referred to as a globe eggplant, is the supermarket standard, big and bulbous with dark purple, almost black skin that’s often peeled before cooking. This variety tends to contain more seeds than some of the other varieties below.
Thin-skinned Asian varieties, which need no peeling, range from long and slender Japanese and Chinese eggplants to round, lime-sized, green-and-white Thai varieties.
Fairy Tale eggplants are only a few inches long at most, with light purple, white-streaked skin.
White eggplants are the variety that originally inspired the name eggplant because of their ivory skin. They range from egg-shaped to oval to long and slender. They tend to have a creamier flesh and sweeter flavor than their purple counterparts.
More unusual are orange-skinned Turkish eggplants. Better to eat these round eggplants while they’re still in the green stage, though. They get seedier as they grow and turn orange.
Shiny skin is your main tipoff to a good eggplant. This applies no matter its size or color, Westerfield says.
An eggplant also should feel firm and dense and have a “leaf cap” that is more green than brown.
Bitterness, everyone’s least favorite eggplant characteristic, comes with age, again regardless of size or variety. “If you leave it on the vine too long, it will tend to get mealy and woody and the skin will get tougher,” Westerfield says. And if an eggplant’s been off the vine and sitting in a bin too long, it’ll go bitter, too. If an eggplant feels soft or has wrinkled skin or dried-out leaves, pass it by.
How to store eggplant
It’s fine to keep eggplant at room temperature if you know you’re going to eat it within a day. But the best place to store eggplant is in the refrigerator crisper drawer, preferably in a paper, not plastic, bag. “That keeps it from sweating so much, which could lead to more decay,” Westerfield says.
Eggplant will start to go south after four or five days, so plan on using it—for your (or you mom’s) favorite dish—within that time.
- What Is A Japanese Eggplant – Different Types Of Japanese Eggplants
- What is a Japanese Eggplant?
- Japanese Eggplant Information
- Growing Japanese Eggplant
- Planting Eggplant
- Growing Eggplants
- Eggplant Problems
- Harvesting Eggplants
- How to Grow Ichiban Eggplants
- Seeds or Seedlings
- Proper Nutrients
- Possible Problems
- Step 1: Choose the variety to grow
- Step 2: Decide just how much of a challenge you want
- Step 3: Pop ’em in the ground
- Step 4: Avoid pests
- Step 5: Post gorgeous, envy-inducing Instagram pics of my harvest and get cooking!
What Is A Japanese Eggplant – Different Types Of Japanese Eggplants
Eggplant is a fruit that has captured the imagination and taste buds of many countries. Eggplants from Japan are known for their thin skin and few seeds. This makes them exceptionally tender. While most types of Japanese eggplants are long and slender, a few are round and egg shaped. Continue reading for more Japanese eggplant information.
What is a Japanese Eggplant?
Eggplants have been cultivated for centuries. There are writings from the 3rd century referencing the cultivation of this wild fruit. Much of the breeding was done to remove the prickles and astringent flavor of wild forms. Today’s Japanese eggplant is silky smooth, sweet and easy to use.
The original eggplants were small, round, green fruits with a slight bitterness to the flesh. Over time, Japanese eggplant varieties have evolved into primarily purple skinned, long, slender fruit, although there are still green forms and even some heirloom varieties
that are white or orange.
Many eggplants from Japan even feature variegated or speckled flesh. Most hybrid varieties have such deeply purple skin it appears to be black. Eggplant is used in stir fry, soup and stew, and sauces.
Japanese Eggplant Information
Japanese eggplant varieties are much leaner than the “globe” types typically found in our supermarkets. They still have the same nutritive benefits and can be used in the same way. The most common types found at farmer’s and specialty markets are glossy, purple fruits. The flesh is creamy and slightly spongy, which makes it a great food to soak up savory or sweet sauces and seasonings.
Some varieties you can grow are:
- Kurume – So dark it is almost black
- Shoya Long – A very long, slim eggplant
- Mangan – A bit chubbier than the usual slender Japanese varieties
- Money Maker – Thick but oblong purple fruits
- Konasu – Small, rounded black fruit
- Ao Diamuru – Rounded green eggplant
- Choryoku – Slender, long green fruit
Growing Japanese Eggplant
All types of Japanese eggplants need full sun, well-draining soil and heat. Start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date of the last frost. Thin seedlings when they have a couple of pairs of true leaves. Harden off plants and transplant to a prepared bed.
Snip off the fruits when they are the size you require. Removing fruits may encourage further production.
Japanese eggplants soak up such traditional flavors as miso, soy, sake, vinegar and ginger. They pair well with the flavors of mint and basil. Almost any meat complements Japanese eggplant and it is used in sauté, frying, baking and even pickling.
Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family as are tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and sweet potatoes. As such, eggplant is technically a fruit. As with tomatoes and other of nightshade veggies there are a number of varieties of eggplant. You’ll find a wide assortment in your market these days. While it is known as eggplant in much of the western world in the U.K. this lovely ingredient is called by the much sexier aubergine (sounds like a heroine in a racy romance novel).
The large dark purple pear shaped eggplant is the most common. I love the hefty feel of a large fresh eggplant, but the larger they are the less flavorful they will be and the tougher the skin. I generally look for fruit that is no more than about 1 lb (about 8 inches long and 4 inches in diameter).
The smaller version of the larger purple skinned eggplant is often called Italian or baby eggplant. These have a somewhat more intense flavor and the flesh is much more tender.
The straight thin eggplants known as Japanese or Asian eggplant have thin delicate skins like Italian eggplant but the flesh is sweeter. The color ranges from dark purple to a striped purple as well as a light amethyst. Because of the sweet flavor and delicate texture, these are the type that I use for any dishes where I may want whole slices or chunks such as Ratatouille.
White skinned eggplant is now widely available and it is this variety that gave eggplant its common name. Also delicate in flavor, they are especially beautiful when grilled.
The flavor of eggplant is fantastic and the great thing about it is that it is so good for you. There have virtually no calories (about 20 calories in a cup of raw fruit). There’s very little fat or carbohydrates but it has fair amount of fiber (2 grams in a cup).
Use eggplants as soon as you can because the flesh turns bitter quickly, even when they are not overripe. Some of the bitterness of older eggplant can be removed by slicing them and then liberally sprinkling the cut edges with salt. After about twenty minutes, rinse the eggplant well.
There are as many variations on the reasons for using salt on eggplant as there are celebrity chefs. The main reason to use salt on eggplant is because they have a very high moisture content. When eggplant is broiled or cooked in a pan, it will usually steam and end up being mushy. The solution is to draw the moisture out. By sprinkling salt on the eggplant, water is drawn to the surface.
I have seen recommendations for using kosher salt. The only difference between kosher salt and regular table salt is the size of the granules. Crystals of salt (no matter what the size) dissolve in the moisture on the surface of the eggplant and form a concentrated salt solution. The high concentration of salt then pulls moisture from inside the fruit. Rinsing and patting dry the eggplant won’t result in it absorbing a significant amount of water (it is porous but not a sponge). The more salt you use or the longer it is on the eggplant, the more effective this technique will be.
The other reason given for salting eggplant is to remove bitterness. This is a bit of an old wives (chef’s) tale. Eggplant becomes bitter as it ages. All of the salt in the world can’t change that. The key is to buy fresh eggplant and use it quickly.
Eggplant has a very short shelf-life, so it is best to buy the day that you are going to use them. Look for an eggplant with a smooth unblemished skin. Those with small pits are not fresh and any darkening or brown spots indicate bruising. They are ripe when you press on them lightly and they give slightly but spring back into shape. If it remains dented where you pressed, it is overripe – don’t buy it.
8 ounces eggplant = 55 calories, 0g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 2g protein, 13g carbohydrates, 5mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 8 mcg Vitamin K
More fruits and vegetables, less heart disease
I’ve written on many occasions about the positive effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on such conditions as oral cancer and gallbladder disease, as well as contributing disease factors like inflammatory markers and DNA oxidation. A recent French meta-analysis of the results of several prospective studies has specifically examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) (J Nutr 2006;136:2588-2593).
Eat your fruits and vegetables and keep your mouth happy
Oral cancer, primarily a disease that occurs in men, was the seventh most common form of cancer—for both sexes—in 2002. Over 210,000 death are caused each year by oral cavity and pharynx cancers. The primary risk factors are well known and include chewing and/or smoking tobacco and consuming alcohol. Often nutritional and dietary deficiencies are linked to oral cancers, but recent research studies have sought to determine the effect of fruit and vegetable intake.
All the more reason to eat your vegetables
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a particularly virulent form of cancer of the lymph nodes, has been associated with DNA damage caused by free radicals in the body. Anti-oxidants are thought to reduce this risk. Previous studies that investigate the link between fruits and vegetables and the anti-oxidants they contain have been inconclusive, however.
Avoid gallbladder surgery – eat your fruits and vegetables!
Surgery is the most common treatment for gallstones: over 800,000 Americans have their gallbladders removed every year. Although most studies of gallbladder disease and prevention focus on specific nutrients in the diet, scientists at the University of Kentucky Medical Center decided to take a broader approach. They chose to investigate whether fruits and vegetables, which are protective against other chronic diseases, might also protect people from gallbladder disease (Amer J Med 2006;119:760-767).
Adolescents low in fruits and vegetables
We’ve known for a while that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Since healthy eating habits are most easily set early in life, childhood and adolescent eating habits are becoming an important topic in dietary research.
Roasted Eggplant Salad
Roasted Eggplant Soup
Pizza with Roasted Eggplant and Feta Cheese
Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant and Broccoli
The range of sizes, shapes, and colors of the heat-loving eggplant (Solanum melongena) tells the story of its enduring popularity. Native to India, where it grows wild, it has been cultivated in Southeast Asia for thousands of years.
Europe was introduced to the vegetable in the 8th century via the Moors, who brought it to Spain, Sicily, and southern France via North Africa. In the sunny, dry climate of the Mediterranean basin, eggplant found the warm growing conditions it prefers and soon found its way into the classic cuisines of the region.
A classic eggplant is deep purple and pear-shaped, but when you grow your own, you can try a cornucopia of other colors and shapes, from elongated lavender-and-white Fairy Tale to the round, violet-blushed Rosa Bianca. But to succeed with eggplants, you’ll need to supply them with steadily warm growing conditions for at least three months. Eggplants growing in cold soil or exposed to chilly weather will sulk and potentially suffer from insect and disease problems.
Give eggplants a head start on the growing season by starting them indoors, six to nine weeks before the average last frost. Soak seeds overnight to encourage germination; sow them ¼ inch deep in a loose, fine medium, such as vermiculite. Use bottom heat to maintain a soil temperature of 80 to 90 degrees for the eight to 10 days required for sprouting.
Transplant seedlings to individual pots once they reach 3 inches. When outside nighttime air temperatures are above 50 degrees, gradually expose them to the outdoors to harden them off. Keep transplanting your seedlings into larger pots as you wait for both outdoor air and soil to warm up to at least 70 degrees.
Try growing eggplants in raised beds, which heat up quickly in spring. Plants given plenty of room are healthier and more productive, so space them 2½ to 3 feet apart in all directions. Water well, pour 1 to 2 cups of compost around each plant, and firm the soil gently.
Eggplants are also good for container growing, with one plant per 5-gallon pot.
Mulch immediately after transplanting, and gently hand pull any invading weeds. Interplant an early crop, such as lettuce, between the eggplant transplants. When the first set of flowers emerge, pinch them off. In addition to making the plant develop several fruiting branches, this will encourage the plant to put more energy into creating leaves and roots instead of one big fruit. To keep plants upright and fruit clean and intact, stalk plants with bamboo poles.
Weeding around the young transplants is essential. Weeds will outcompete eggplants until warm summer temperatures come. Stay on top of weeds by regularly hand-pulling or carefully weeding with a hoe or cultivator. Once the soil is warmed up, a mulch of straw or compost can be used. Grass clippings make a good anti-weed barrier, too.
Flea beetles, which chew many tiny holes in leaves, are eggplant’s worst pest. To avoid this problem, keep plants indoors until early summer, or cover outdoor plants with floating row cover or dust the foliage with kaolin clay (re-apply it after rain). If plants become infested, spraying Beauveria bassiana or spinosad may knock back the population of flea beetles and save your plants. When eggplants are grown in containers that are at least a foot-and-a-half off the ground, the flea beetles don’t seem to find them as easily.
Hand pick and destroy yellow-and-black-striped Colorado potato beetles and the yellow masses of eggs they lay on leaf undersides. Hand picking is also effective for tomato hornworms, 4-inch green caterpillars with white stripes. Don’t destroy those covered with tiny white cocoons; these contain the parasitic offspring of the beneficial braconid wasp. Tiny spider mites cause yellow-stippled leaves; control these pests by knocking them off the plant with a spray of water.
The most common eggplant disease is Verticillium wilt. Avoid it by planting resistant cultivars and by rotating crops.
Placing a floating row cover over seedlings right after planting offers a twofold benefit: It forms a physical barrier between the plants and insect pests, and the row cover acts as a greenhouse, heating the air around the plants above the ambient temperature. This lightweight, nonwoven material can be draped directly onto the plants or tented over the row, supported by wire hoops.
Pick eggplant when the skin takes on a high gloss. To test, press the skin. If the indentation doesn’t spring back, that fruit is ready for harvest. To harvest, clip the eggplants off the plant with pruning shears, keeping the cap and about 1 inch of stem intact. Watch out for the small prickles that line the stems and the cap of some varieties, as they are a skin irritant.
Eggplants will keep for two weeks if refrigerated. If you cut open an eggplant fruit and find that the seeds inside have turned brown, the fruit is past prime quality and the flavor may be bitter. The best way to avoid this is by picking fruits on the young side, when they are a third to two-thirds of their fully mature size.
How to Grow Ichiban Eggplants
If you like eggplant (Solanum melongena) and enjoy gardening, then add ‘Ichiban’ eggplant (Solanum melongena ‘Ichiban’) to your vegetable plot. This variety belongs to a group sometimes called Japanese or Oriental eggplant. Its fruits are thinner than standard-sized eggplant fruits and tend to be more mild and flavorful, with thin, easily peeled skins. ‘Ichiban’ eggplant is grown as an annual in all parts of the United States, needing only basic care and a little extra attention now and then to thrive.
Seeds or Seedlings
‘Ichiban’ eggplant is typical of all eggplants in growing well in warm weather, but it produces large numbers of 10-inch-long, dark-purple fruits in 50 to 60 days, unlike standard varieties that can take 70 days or longer. Harvest the eggplants while the outer skin is glossy and not dull in color. Once the skin turns dull, the fruit is over-ripe, which leads to bitterness in its flavor. Sterilize your pruning shears or a sharp knife by wiping the blades off with alcohol. This keeps disease from being transferred to the plant. Snip the eggplant from the plant, allowing a small section of stem to remain attached to the eggplant. Pulling or twisting the eggplant off can break the plant’s stem.
You can start ‘Ichiban’ plants indoors from seeds, sowing the seeds 1/4 inch deep in soil-filled pots or trays about six to 10 weeks before you plan to plant the resulting seedlings in the garden. An option is to start with seedlings purchased at a plant nursery or garden center to get a quick start on the growing season. Either way, wait until all danger of frost has passed and daytime temperatures stay at or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to plant seedlings in the garden.
Choose a planting spot that gets at least eight hours of direct sun exposure per day, and space the seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart to give the plants room to spread. Set seedlings in holes that keep the plants at the same soil depth as they were in their pots, and fill the rest of each hole with soil. Water the planted site’s soil well.
You can also grow these 3-foot-tall plants in containers, with one plant per 5-gallon pot; keep the pots in direct sun exposure for the best results. Ensure each container has bottom drainage holes.
Eggplants grow best in soil high in organic content. So mix about a 1-inch-thick layer of compost into your planting area to a soil depth of 6 to 8 inches before you plant. Eggplants also require good drainage to thrive. If your garden soil is rich in clay, then combine a few-inches-thick layer of sand with the soil to improve its drainage. The soil’s pH level should be 6.2 to 6.8 for eggplants.
Like all eggplant varieties, ‘Ichiban’ needs adequate moisture to produce a heavy crop of fruits. Water is especially important when the young fruits start developing, with about 1 inch per week being ideal. Give extra water whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of soil feel dry to the touch, using a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and suppress growth of fungus. Adding 2 or 3 inches of organic mulch such as shredded bark or straw on the soil surface under the plants also helps conserve soil moisture while keeping down weeds, but keep mulch back a bit from each plant’s center to discourage fungal growth.
‘Ichiban’ eggplant is a heavy feeder, needing fertilizer on a regular basis. Before planting, mix 2 to 3 pounds of a granular, 15-5-10 formula into the soil for each 100 square feet of planting area. Then feed the plants with more fertilizer monthly, starting one month after planting. Use about 1 pound of the same formula for each 100 feet of planted row, mixing it into a shallow trench that you form with a trowel about 1 foot away from the plants; this fertilizer method is called side dressing.
‘Ichiban’ eggplant is usually simple to grow, doing especially well in cool climates and producing fruits into fall. It is susceptible to several pests, however, including flea beetles that chew tiny holes in leaves and slow plant growth. Prevent damage from these pests by setting floating row covers over young ‘Ichiban’ plants to prevent the insects from feeding and laying eggs on the plants.
The plants also may attract Colorado potato beetles, which have yellow and black stripes. Hand-pick these beetles and their clusters of yellow eggs from the plants. Weblike coverings on leaves and growing tips are caused by spider mites, which also feed on the plants. Spray all parts of the spider mite-affected plants until they are wet with an insecticidal soap-water solution, made by diluting a concentrated insecticidal soap at a rate of 5 tablespoons per 1 gallon of water. Repeat the application every two weeks as needed.
‘Ichiban’ eggplants are quite disease-resistant but can develop a fungal disease called Verticillium wilt when grown in overly moist conditions. The best way to prevent that problem is by spacing plants properly and clearing plant debris from the garden on a regular basis.
Have you been gardening for a few years? Do you feel like you’re ready for a challenge? Me too! This season my gardening challenge is to grow a couple varieties of eggplants successfully (as opposed to my other attempts, which were not so successful). While trapped inside all winter I’ve been boning up on all things eggplant. So, let me drop some knowledge on you about growing eggplant.
I devised a five-step plan for my eggplant endeavor. (It was color coded, indexed, and illustrated. Did I mention it was a really looong winter?)
Step 1: Choose the variety to grow
This step involved me sitting by the fire buried under a delightful avalanche of seed catalogs during a blizzard dreaming of days warm enough for growing eggplant.
Generally speaking, there are four types of eggplant: the oval-oblong shaped eggplant that you see in your local supermarket; Japanese eggplant that are long and slender; small fruited eggplant that include green, white, lavender, and purple varieties; and novelty eggplant that include exotic varieties such as orange Turkish eggplant, green Thai eggplant, and egg-shaped white eggplant.
My dog eventually unearthed me from the pile of seed catalogs, and I never actually bought the seeds. Why? Read on…
Step 2: Decide just how much of a challenge you want
I’m up for a challenge, but I’m not totally crazy. In other words, I had to decide if I was going to start growing eggplant from seeds indoors or simply buy seedlings from the local nursery. Based on my past (disastrous) experience, I decided to buy seedlings.
But, by all means, I encourage you to start seeds indoors from seeds. You’ll be rewarded by having a greater variety to choose from including heirloom choices. I strongly suggest growing your seedlings on a heat mat because they want to be very toasty warm.
If, like me, you buy seedling from the nursery, resist the urge to put them in the ground too soon. The ideal growing temp for eggplant is above 70 degrees. So, for gardeners like me, that means they don’t go in the ground until the risk of frost has long past. I let my tomatoes be a guide. Once my tomato plants had been outside for a week and fared well then I planted my eggplant.
Step 3: Pop ’em in the ground
When the temp was finally warm enough for my eggplant seedlings I popped ’em in the ground. (Then I sat there and obsessively watched them for a long while. You can skip this step if you have a life.)
Give them the best soil possible by amending with compost. A soil pH of 5.5-6.5 is best.
I’m growing eggplant in a garden bed where I had previously grown lettuce. This is good because they shouldn’t grow in a garden bed where other nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) have grown for the past two years. Why? To avoid the risk of pests.
Before planting I laid a black tarp on my soil for a couple days to try to warm it as much as possible. And I had garden stakes ready for when the plants get a bit bigger and need support.
Step 4: Avoid pests
At the moment I’ve got row covers on my eggplant to hopefully avoid flea beetles. When the plants are about 14 inches tall I’ll remove the covers and keep a look out for the little pests. If you don’t have a row cover, then consider planting eggplant in a large (at least 14 inches wide) pot. Place the pot on a table so that it is far away from the ground where the flea beetles live.
Step 5: Post gorgeous, envy-inducing Instagram pics of my harvest and get cooking!
I’ve been dreaming of this day ever since the avalanche of seed catalogs! I’ve made this grilled eggplant recipe before and can’t wait to try it with my home grown eggplant.
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